Longevity of the revitalization movement

Anthony Wallace wrote in his famous essay almost 60 years ago:

That regularity of patterned behavior which we call culture depends relatively more on the ability of constituent units autonomously to perceive the system of which they are a part… It is therefore functionally necessary for every person in society to maintain a mental image of the society and its culture…

Whenever an individual who is under chronic, physiologically measurable stress, receives repeated information which indicates that his mazeway does not lead to action which reduces the level of stress, he must choose between maintaining his present mazeway and tolerating the stress, or changing the mazeway in an attempt to reduce the stress.

The main contention is that most cultures were built to withstand certain level of “pressure”, either an outbreak of epidemic, an unassailable foreign invasion, or a heated irreconcilable internal societal strife. While most of the time cultures are able to maintain the homeostasis through digesting waves of “stress” and evolve gradually, a total breakaway from the old culture is not rare in the history of mankind. Wallace called this social phenomenon The Revitalization Movement, wherein new cultures (either newly created ones, existing minor ones, or existing foreign ones) are embraced by the populace over the old ones, in response to the out-of-range societal “stress”.

He was talking about how culture/religion responds to unexpected societal crises, with the claim that all religions arise in response to the crisis, from the origin of Judaism and Christianity in Levant, the Reformation in Western Christendoms, to the rise of Taiping Rebellion in late Qing China. This is where things get interesting. Within a first glimpse, his view seem a bit extreme. But to think further in his thesis, it starts to make a lot of sense. The introduction of monotheistic Judaism with the replacement of Aramaic-influenced Hebrew from Phoenician-related Paleo-Hebrew alphabet coincided when returned Israelites were puzzled why their holy temple was destroyed and their people subjugated into alien dominion. Christianity emerged as a formidable urban religion within the Roman Empire when people in the Roman cities were baffled by the devastation of the two deadly plagues in the 2nd and 3rd century. Reformation came into history after the infamous bubonic plague and years of harsh exploitation from the papal hierarchy. Taiping Rebellion erupted soon after the humiliating defeat of Qing to the British in the First Opium War. All of those changes of religions/cultures could be simplified as a change of belief. And in his assertion, all beliefs are blind, and all beliefs are constructed on some sort of “dream”.

One can ask whether a large proportion of religious phenomena have not originated in personality transformation dreams… The circumstances of whose origin have been distorted and forgotten, and whose connection with dream state is now ignored…It is tempting to suggest that myths and often, even legends, read like dreams because they were dreams when they were first told…

It is known that the spread of a religion/culture has little to do with individual enlightenment but rather its societal background and the influence of personal networking. In Wallace’s theory the emergence of dominant culture/religion only happened at those critical points when the old cultural structure can no longer relieve the exploding societal stress. According to this theory, all existing religions/cultures nowadays are the evidences of those old revitalization movements. This is such an eye-opening contention to me as I immediately try to apply it to interpret the rise of modern nationalism and more recently, the hegemony of leftism/liberalism in the contemporary world.

Modern leftism got everything it takes to be counted as a religion. It has a central belief exclusively consisting of emotional dreams like human rights, absolute democracy, freedom and egalitarianism. Those beliefs has been reinforced stronger than ever with the invention of mass media over the populace. One could even trace back the emergence of leftism in the era of Enlightenment as a revitalization movement in response to the decadence of social order and ethics with the rise of capitalism and industrial revolution in Western Europe.  This notion would further be propelled into a dominant position over its main competitor nationalism/patriotism that arise from the same societal stress, thanks to the two disastrous global wars and their final victory of both. However, when talking about modern leftism, I think “the inclusion of the savageland, and the escalating deterioration of the traditional societal structure in post-industrialism” deserves particular attention as the kind of societal stress that significantly facilitated the upgrade of modern leftism since the 20th century. The bafflement over the biological diversity, disparity of civilizations, the hollowness of modern lifestyle, serves as a major hit that struck modern leftism to forcibly (and painfully) evolve but have not yet mounted to a critical level to blow up the whole belief system.

In reality, the final blow to this old religion is on the way. The insurmountable pressure is accumulating from the discrepancy between reality and leftist dreams. The upcoming collapse of welfare economy, the foreseeable failure of multiculturalism, the growing frustration of the show business of democracy, and the increasing hostility against the equilibrium among corporate-bank-politician, would only grow bigger. This new window of opportunity will inspire various currently humble cults into the center of attention. Eventually there will be one that would supplant the old and prevail. We dissidents are the pioneers in this upcoming wave of revitalization movement. We appear, for the current religion can not handle the newly encountered stress fundamentally. Hopefully we would also be able to nurture and witness the arrival of the next revitalization movement.

7 comments

      1. No, it’s going to be either Islam or Christianity. Atheism will be non-existent, as it has been for the entirety of human history (nothing like a good dose of the reality of the human condition jammed up your arse to rid you of infantile posturing).

      2. Well, I would say neither holds a big chance of winning in the end. Both Islam and Christianity are the products of old revitalization movements, their structures are not suitable to handle new social pressures in contemporary society. The upcoming new belief is going to be more realistic for sure, though no one has a clear clue at the moment.

      3. 1. Well if you’re defining religion very broadly to include progressivism then a new (perhaps secular) religion doesn’t seem so odd. I can imagine at some point a subset of the population rejecting progressivism who will stop trying to influence the wider society and develop a intellectual framework for supporting each other and resisting assimilation.

        2. All bets are off in the event of complete social collapse. Anything could emerge from the chaos, including new non-secular religions. (Not saying this will happen, I’m just saying if it did happen…)

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